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JIM McGURN describes the development of cycles with more than just the traditional two wheels...
The high wheeler had been seen by many as dangerous and undignified. The tricycle was a solution of sorts, and gave a huge boost to cycling, but tricycle development took many turns, with several designs giving cyclists the pedal-powered equivalent of the omnibus.
At one end of the scale were side-by-side sociables, which allowed the nervous to cycle with a stronger companion who could maintain the pace of the machine and be responsible for the steering. Cycling now became part of courtship, offering men and women new opportunities for relaxed and informal relationships.
A more servile relationship was foreseen on machines which allowed servants to propel the affluent. In Germany there was a particular interest in the replacement of horse cabs by human powered vehicles. In 1885 the Hamburg firm of Lenning brought out the five-wheeled Fugitive, which had provision for five riders plus standing room for a passenger. Dumstrey and Jungck of Berlin produced the Sultan Cycle, which was a form of rickshaw quadricycle for two passengers and two pedallers.
Multicycles were developed for many a specialist task, such as the fireman's quadricycle made by the Aurora cycle Works of Breslau. It carried three firemen and a rolled up hose, through which water could be propelled by pedal power on arrival at the conflagration. In America the police could pursue their man on the Police Patrol Tricycle produced by the Davis Sewing Machine company of Dayton Ohio in 1898, to which the criminal could be secured hand and foot. The military naturally took an interest in the potential of multicycles as gun platforms. A machine-gun tricycle of Rudge-Whitworth manufacture had two guns mounted on its two-seater tandem frame, with supports dropping to the ground when it was in action, firing from the rear. Americans developed a a military tandem bicycle with rifle supports, revolver holster and pouches and a 'Duplex' with rapid firing gun aimed over the handlebars
Of course, the world of competitive cycling quickly explored opportunities for employing the power of several riders to propel one machine. There were categories for all kinds of format of bicycle and tricycle. Sociable tricycles were slow and in the mid-1880s were rivalled by tandem machines where one rider sat behind the other. The fastest of these was the Humber. In June 1885 two riders covered a mile on it in two minutes forty-seven seconds and five miles in fourteen minutes twenty-two seconds.
Tandem tricycles gave way in the late 1890s to the more efficient tandem bicycles. Soon multicycles were developed to provide high speed pacing on race tracks. In 1893, the top French professionals Terront and Corre competed in a track race behind successive teams of pacers on five- or six-seat multicycles. these machines became a standard feature of important cycle sports events in Europe. A top rider aiming for a fifty mile record would expect six multicycle teams, each on the track for two miles at a time, to break the air resistance in front of him. At least one team went as far as having its rearmost rider wear an outdoor coat which he held wide open.
Multicycles brought speed and spectacle to events as they drew their soloists high on the straights before swooping down on the curves. professional multicycle teams were either in the pay of a manufacturer - The Dunlop teams were world famous- or were self-employed. A group of riders would club together to buy a multicycle and then hire themselves out, travelling from venue to venue. the job had its dangers, as a collision, a broken fork or a snapped chain could bring six men crashing down.
The motor bike replaced these heroic journeymen and the petrol engine generally supplanted mass human power as a form of propulsion. The multicycle occasionally reappears as a vehicle for fun and sometimes in attempts to improve on other applications of human muscle-power such as designs to replacing rowing by a pedal driven screw or paddle wheel.
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Marriage is a wonderful invention; but then again, so is a bicycle repair kit.